Customized Reports Save Money, Electricity

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling, always looking to bring you interesting cleantech reading, is proud to repost this article from partner Sierra Club Green Home. Author credit goes to Debbie Van Der Hyde.

Utilities and energy providers across the nation are turning to personalized home electricity reports to help customers save on their utility bills and reduce their carbon emissions.

These easy-to-understand reports provide customers with information about their energy use compared to people with homes of similar square footage. Some reports include a progress tracker to see how a homeowner’s usage changes over time.

image via OPOWER

Many reports also offer personalized tips, including no-cost and low-cost improvements to help customers make their homes more efficient. Examples include unplugging cell phone wall chargers when not in use, putting outdoor lights on timers, hanging laundry to dry, and buying more efficient refrigerators.

Behavioral approach to energy conservation
The home reports get their approach from behavior-based electricity management, a new, growing field in conservation. Puget Sound Energy, a private utility in Washington state, for example, currently sends reports to 24,000 customers. Joel Smith, who manages the company’s energy efficiency services, sees how these reports encourage more eco-friendly behavior.

“The program provides our customers with a benchmark for understanding how they and their home use energy. It gives them an idea of whether or not there is room for improvement if they choose to make changes,” says Smith.

La Vonna Jones, a former Puget Sound Energy customer, altered the days and times that she did laundry based on her reports.

“I didn’t know that energy usage at certain times of the day was higher and more expensive because so many people were using it,” Jones says. The behavior change reduced her electricity bill and was rewarding, she says. “It seemed perfectly easy and reasonable to me to make small changes to save energy while also helping the community as a whole.”

Do the reports achieve results for customers and utilities alike? The answer is: definitely.

“On average, a Seattle City Light customer who receives the report is using about 3 percent or 300 kilowatt less electricity per year than those who are not,” says Lars Henrikson, program manager for the home electricity reports for Seattle City Light. The public utility launched the program in 2009 and is currently sending reports to 50,000 customers.

“When we multiply that savings by the number of customers receiving the reports, we’re achieving approximately 15 million kilowatt hours of savings annually. That’s about what a windmill would produce in one year,” says Henrikson.

Opower, a software company headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, provides the analytics behind the home electricity reports used by Puget Sound Energy, Seattle City Light and about 60 other utilities across the country. Opower estimates that up to 20 percent of electricity in people’s homes is wasted.

“The reports are designed to make sure customers have full visibility into opportunities to save electricity, and to make it easy for them to do something about it by eliminating the amount that is wasted,” says Ogi Kavazovic, Opower vice president of corporate marketing.

Behavior-based management can be just as beneficial for the utility companies as well. “In many cases, our utility customers are also using the platform to help them evolve from providers to electricity management advisors and service providers,” says Kavazovic.

This is certainly the case at Seattle City Light. Customer calls about the report are directed to the utility’s conservation call center. “The reports are a great conversation starter about measures our customers can take. They also help our customers understand the costs of inaction,” says Henrikson.

Other energy management tools
In addition to paper-based reports, some utilities work with Opower and similar companies to offer Web portals that provide customers with more in-depth and customized home electricity usage statistics.

Tendril, located in Boulder, Colorado, serves more than 30 energy service providers across the United States, primarily in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest. Tendril’s Web platform gives customers insight, choice, and control over their energy use in real time.

“Consumers can monitor their kilowatt hours being used, determine what actions they can take to reduce their usage, and then see an impact on their bills,” says Sheila O’Neill, communication director at Tendril.

Utilities can then offer their customers smart devices, such as programmable thermostats or smart outlets. “This gives consumers more control over their energy use and more savings,” says O’Neill.

Cape Light Compact, a Massachusetts-based electricity service provider, designed and implemented a smart home monitoring pilot program in collaboration with Tendril. Customers could see real-time electricity usage and could chat through a secure Web dashboard with others in the pilot about what they were doing to help save electricity.

“We were looking for a new way to reach customers and to see if small behavior changes impacted their energy consumption,” says Briana C. Kane, senior residential program coordinator for Cape Light Compact.

“On average, we saw a 9.3 percent reduction, showing how small changes can lead to big impacts,” Kane adds.

Additional electricity management services available through some utilities include email or text message alerts to monitor usage and mobile management applications. Using the apps, participating customers can access electricity usage information and remotely control devices in their home, such as programmable thermostats or air conditioners. This saves even more energy and money.

Are you interested in receiving a regular home electricity report?  Call your utility to find out if it offers the program or to learn more about other available energy-saving offers.

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